Fukushima 'much bigger than Chernobyl'-expert
WASHINGTON, April 2,AFP
Japan's unfolding nuclear disaster is "much bigger than Chernobyl"
and could rewrite the international scale used to measure the severity
of atomic accidents, a Russian expert said here Friday.
"Chernobyl was a dirty bomb explosion. The next dirty bomb is
Fukushima and it will cost much more" in economic and human terms, said
Natalia Mironova, a thermodynamic engineer who became a leading
anti-nuclear activist in Russia in the wake of the accident at the
Soviet-built reactor in Ukraine in 1986.
"Fukushima is much bigger than Chernobyl," she said, adding that the
Japanese nuclear crisis was likely to eclipse Chernobyl on the
seven-point scale used to rate nuclear disasters.
A 2005 report by UN bodies including the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) called Chernobyl "the most severe in the history of the
nuclear power industry" and ranked it a seven on the International
Nuclear Event Scale (INES).But the nuclear crisis in Japan, which was
triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami three weeks ago, could be
"even higher" on the INES scale, said Mironova.
"Chernobyl was level seven and it had only one reactor and lasted
only two weeks. We have now three weeks (at Fukushima) and we have four
reactors which we know are in very dangerous situations," she warned.
Japan's nuclear safety agency has maintained its rating of the
Fukushima accident at four the lowest level at which INES considers a
nuclear "event" to be an accident while a French watchdog has upgraded
it to six.
Chernobyl's death toll, meanwhile, is hotly debated. The 2005 UN
report on Chernobyl said only about 1,000 people received high doses of
radiation immediately after the accident and 134 emergency workers died
in the year following the disaster of acute radiation sickness.Nearly 20
years after Chernobyl, thyroid cancer had spiked in people who were
children at the time of the accident, and "a large fraction" of those
cancers were likely due to eating foods contaminated with radioactive
iodine after the disaster, the report said.
But the UN report said Chernobyl might be responsible in the long
term for "up to several thousand fatal cancers," dismissing as "highly
exaggerated" claims that "tens or even hundreds of thousands of persons
have died as a result of the accident." A report released in 2006 by the
environmental group Greenpeace said 60,000 people had died in Russia
"because of the Chernobyl accident", which would also cause "nearly
100,000 fatal cancers." Mironova said Chernobyl would likely impact the
health of 600 million people around the world over the long-term, or
nearly nine times more than were killed in World Wars I and II. She
cited a study which found that, by 2015, the nuclear accident will have
cost the world $9 trillion.
Mironova is touring the United States with fellow anti-nuclear
activists Natalia Manzurova, who developed thyroid cancer after working
as a "liquidator" at Chernobyl, and Tatiana Muchamedyarova.Their visit
was originally planned to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl
meltdown on April 26, 1986, but they rewrote their presentations after
the Fukushima nuclear crisis began.
Manzurova said Chernobyl and Fukushima showed that nuclear accidents
"impact the whole world," not just the country where they occur.
Radioactivity from Chernobyl contaminated 77,000 square miles
(199,429 square kilometers) of land in Europe and the former Soviet
Union, creating "long-term challenges for flora, fauna, water, the
environment and human health," former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
wrote in the March issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
Radiation from Fukushima has been reported in the air, seawater and
food, and on Friday the government said groundwater has been found to be
contaminated with radioactive fallout. On a screen behind Mironova, a
Meteo France computer model showed how radioactive particles have been
dispersed from the crippled Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan since
the March 11 quake and tsunami.
A radioactive cloud hit the Korean peninsula and Siberia within days
of the quake and swirled across the Pacific Ocean to reach the United
States and Canada a week after the disaster.
By Friday, the cloud completely covered the northern hemisphere.